NEW YORK (AP)Gerrit Cole noticed the normal.
”It feels different already,” the New York Yankees ace said Thursday. ”Walked in yesterday on an off day, everybody’s in, no mask. breakfast spread’s out, couches are back. Human beings are here.”
Cole’s first game in pinstripes was delayed by the pandemic until Aug. 3, 2020, when he pitched in a ballpark without fans. His first game last season was before a crowd limited to 10,850 during a season in which the Yankees were not allowed to sell a full house until mid-June.
A large crowd was expected for Friday’s rain-delayed season opener against the Boston Red Sox, the first opening-day meeting of the rivals since 2005. The starting pitchers are a rematch of last year’s AL wild-card game, won 5-2 by the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
”It feels like it’s more back to normal,” said Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi, who joins Pedro Martinez ad Jon Lester as the only Red Sox pitchers to make three straight opening-day starts in the 21st century. ”We’ve had a few of our younger guys just asking questions about the media – like, ‘The media’s back in the clubhouse? Was it always like this?’ And, it’s like, yeah, this is the way it used to be.”
And the stands will look like they did in pre-pandemic days.
”It’s going to be fun,” Boston star Xander Bogaerts said. ”Wherever you go, ballparks are going to be full.”
Every team in the AL East other than Baltimore won 90 games last year, the first time that happened since the leagues split into three divisions each in 1994. Boston and New York were both 92-70.
Players, like fans, are amped for a Yankees-Red Sox opener.
”I just kind of see it as two stags locking up in the forest,” Cole said. ”Somebody’s going to break an antler every once in a while, and nobody’s certainly going to back down.”
New York has a new third baseman and leadoff hitter in Josh Donaldson and new shortstop in Isiah Kiner-Falefa, acquired from Minnesota for catcher Gary Sanchez and shortstop Gio Urshela.
Boston has a new second baseman in Trevor Story, signed as a free agent and shifted across the infield in a move that allows Bogaerts to remain at shortstop. Bogaerts is eligible for free agency after this season and said while Boston made an offer, talks for a long-term contract did not progress.
”We had time to get something done. It didn’t work out,” Bogaerts said in the Yankees refurbished news conference room, his diamond necklace and earrings sparkling in the new lights.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge is also eligible for free agency after the World Series. Judge said he will cut off talks for a long-term deal when the season starts.
”What he brings to this organization from my time being here, it’s something I haven’t seen before,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, acquired from the Chicago Cubs last July. ”And when it comes to the business side of it, there’s no secret, you see Freddie Freeman isn’t on the Braves anymore. There’s no loyalty in this game. And when you separate that and the business side and you take your heart out of it, that’s the tough part.”
Alex Cora is back for his second season managing the Red Sox after returning from a one-year suspension for his role in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal. For him, opening days are moments to treasure.
”Two years ago I wasn’t in the game for what I did, and I will never take this game for granted,” he said.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone was happy to be facing a room filled with New York media for the first time since 2019.
”I liked walking into the room and seeing this again. This is the way it should be,” he said. ”It makes you appreciate the stage and the sport that you get to take part in.”
Clubhouses are open to media for the first time since early March 2020, allowing players to have one-on-one interviews.
”Maybe it improves their social skills a little bit,” Boone said.
All teams have a new electronic pitch-calling system allowing catchers to sign pitchers through a wristband unit. MLB authorized the new system following an investigated sign stealing by the Astros en route to the 2017 World Series title.
”There are some immediate positives I think to take from it right away,” Cole said, thinking of a faster pace. ”Overall being able to fall back on what we traditionally do really quickly in the game I think is this comforting, but there no doubt going to be some adjustments in terms of shaking and locations and things like that that we’re going to get ironed out probably during the season.”
Cora on the Red Sox not being favorites to win the the World Series. ”We treat it like college baseball. Right now we’re No. 12 in the nation. We just need to get better. If people feel that way about us, they have a reason.”
The Yankees interview room was renovated with oversized magazine covers of former stars.
Red Sox: Given the rainout, LHP Rich Hill will start for Boston on Tuesday at Detroit and RHP Garrett Whitlock will be available in the bullpen on Friday.
Yankees: Cole will be followed in the rotation by RHP Luis Severino, LHP Jordan Montgomery, RHP Jaimeson Taillon and LHP Nestor Cortes.
Red Sox: Boston selected the contracts of INF Travis Shaw and RHP Hansel Robles from Triple-A Worcester. Robles gets a $2.25 million, one-year deal and can earn up to $1.25 million for starts, up to 25, and $250,000 for relief appearances, up to 45. Shaw gets a $1.5 million, one-year deal. … RHP Tyler Danish was optioned to Worcester, RHPs Eduard Bazzardo and Ralph Garza Jr. were designated for assignment and LHP Josh Taylor was put on the 10-day IL, retroactive to Monday, with a lower back strain.
Yankees: New York selected the contract of INF/OF Marwin Gonzalez from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He gets a $1.1 million salary. … OF Jeisson Rosario was designated for assignment and C Ben Rortvedt was put on the 10-day IL with a strained right oblique muscle.
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